Fixed Mindset to Growth Mindset: How Science at UMEI Changed Everything For Me
As an elementary school student, I was not very interested in science whatsoever. The extent of my science knowledge consisted of basic plant anatomy and that static electricity made your hair fly up when you touched a special ball. I remember seeing the “Mad Science” club at my school and thinking that it would be weird and was meant for boys who liked to touch gross things. In grade 7 and 8 science, our science lessons consisted of popcorn reading. We would all sit at desks with the textbooks in front of us and someone would read the text until they said “Popcorn, Leah!”. Then it was my turn to read a sentence or two before passing the burden on to another classmate. I did not enjoy this subject and especially disliked the “tech” field trips the science teacher took us on to the high school where we built cars and structures. Keeping this in mind, I was shocked to learn on my grade 8 Graduation day that I had won the science and technology award. Did I really deserve this award? I may have been able to memorize the properties of light, but I did not enjoy this subject at all.
I was fortunate enough to attend a small private Mennonite high school (UMEI) with a class of 17 students in grade 9. At UMEI, I had the same teacher for every year of science. I can honestly say that this teacher is the reason I am in science today. Beginning in grade 9, he excited us about the idea of molecules, elements, and chemical bonds. He would relate bonding atoms to relationships while telling hilarious stories that somehow related to classroom concepts. Not only did I love going to his classes, but I found that I excelled in science more so than any other subject. This was likely due to my natural ability to memorize and answer multiple choice questions and the fact that my parents are both strong in math and science. However, I also found the content interesting and that made going to class and studying less painful.
During grade 9 and 10, I found myself to become extremely interested in human physiology, anatomy, and genetics since I was able to learn about things that I could easily relate to. However, during grade 11 course selection, I decided that I did not want to take physics. Every year, I had gone to the grade 11 rocket launch fundraising event and saw students launch their homemade machines into the sky. I thought to myself that I had zero knowledge about cars, let alone rockets, and I was not interested in learning mechanics. There was no way I would be taking this course if I needed to build my own rocket.
My science teacher approached me one day and basically explained to me that I had a fixed mindset about physics when I needed to have a growth mindset. Throughout the course, we would eventually learn the basics of building a rocket and he would give us the necessary components. I ended up enrolling in the course and loved how math could be used to calculate things like velocity and acceleration of objects around us. This idea of having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset is one I will bring to every classroom I teach in the future.
During my high school years in science, we visited a Chrysler plant, went tobogganing, flew in a small plane over our town, went go-karting, built circuits, did dissections, created our own experiments, and blew up pumpkins. In grade 12, I decided that science was the only subject I would be willing to study for four more years in detail and potentially have a career in. This led me to the University of Waterloo’s Biomedical Science program.
In university, I quickly learned that first year science is extremely generic and the large amounts of content with fewer tests made memorizing more difficult. The professors did not tell interesting stories or bring us on fun field trips. We were expected to learn the details of glycolysis and how DNA replication works by listening to monotone and unexciting researchers talk. I spent hours at the library writing study notes to help me memorize the names of microorganisms that I was not interested in. Some of the passion I had gained during high school was lost while trying to maintain good grades and decide on a career in science. It was at this point that I realized how important the role of an educator is. They have the ability to inspire and excite us. Very few of my professors did this. However, my high school science teacher did this each year in every course I took with him. I wonder where I would be now without him.
Since teaching had always been an interest of mine, I began volunteering for a program called Let’s Talk Science. This extracurricular involved going to schools to do presentations and run activities related to science. Through this program, I fell in love with inspiring and exciting children through science. I ran workshops related to adaptations, dinosaurs, structures, and criminology. I loved seeing the way children’s eyes lit up when I explained a concept about their world that they had never understood or when they discovered that their hypothesis was correct during an experiment. This volunteer opportunity eventually led me to a job as a leader at Engineering Science Quest which is a science day camp run through UW in the summers. Through this camp, I led science activities for hundreds of children from grade 1 to 9. These opportunities have confirmed that teaching science is my passion, even more so than science itself, and that I need to pursue this as a career.
As a future science teacher, I have many questions for myself. What can I do as a teacher to make science interesting, enjoyable, and relatable to elementary school children? How can I present science in a way that is appealing to both males and females? How can I motivate every student to like science, beyond the ones that are good at memorizing? How can I make science more about learning and less about memorizing? These are questions I hope to find better and better answers for throughout my career as an educator.
Written by: Leah Toews